Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Photo from Beyonce, via urbancusp.com
Step back cause there’s a new F-word in town. I’m not talking about f@*!, I’m talking about feminism. That’s right, your favorite group of bra-burning, man-hating girls is back with even hairier armpits and grittier campaigns. The word “feminism” to us millennials has been so contrived by current culture and media that the movement and word itself share little in common with its origins. Yet despite the evolution of feminism over time, the word carries so much baggage so as to prompt writer and editor Martin Daubney to say, “Few other words in the English language instil such an immediate, powerful and usually negative response in men (and, interestingly, quite a lot of women) as the F-word.” With more and more people announcing their stance on feminism, it only feels fair that the use of the word “feminism” gets its exploration here too.

Feminism in definition: In definition, feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” Such a shocker that someone’s radical enough to believe that women are people too.

Unfortunately, this definition is frequently lost in everyday conversation. The conversation around feminism now centers around much more than just the movement for women’s rights, such as fighting for the voice to fight for women’s rights.

Feminism in History Class: This is the extent of a feminist education that most young men and women are receiving today, unless a student takes a particular interest in the movement early on. History class treats the word “feminism” as an antique meant to be studied from a distance. The AP US curriculum doesn’t even list race and gender as an important theme in US history. In US history, feminism is taught through a series of disjointed events and people, starting with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and largely ending with Susan B. Anthony and the Suffragettes (hello, what happened to Betty Friedan and the entire 20th century?). This educational approach renders feminism as a dynamic, continuous movement obsolete, and thus many students see feminism as irrelevant. “Feminism” in the words of many students simply becomes another “ism” meant to be the subject of a school report and the word bears no personal meaning to them. With schools in many states such as Colorado and Oklahoma revising the US history curriculum to reflect a more”patriotic” view of America (aka a very white, rich, male view of America), it’s likely “feminism” will become a dusty word on a bookshelf to many students.

Feminism as used by feminists: This one’s a debacle to to debunk. Feminists come in all shapes and sizes and from all sorts of backgrounds. I think the biggest difference in how feminists use the word “feminism” is that to feminists the word has a much broader significance. Just one look at the navigation bar at the online magazine Everyday Feminism shows the all-encompassing scope of feminism, with topics ranging from body image to race to class issues. To feminists, “feminism” no longer just means the equality of the sexes but the equality of all people. An important element of that is intersectionality, which is the belief that women experience oppression in varying intensities and in different ways based on their race, socioeconomic class, sexuality, etc. When a feminist uses the word “feminism,” they articulate what feminism means to them from their own background, conscious of the fact that “feminism” means different things for different people.

Photo via Elle UK

Feminism as an insult:This usage of the word “feminism” is sadly one of its most common forms.Funnily enough, however, when I googled “insults against feminists,” most of the sites that popped up described how feminism is offensive to society or how feminists insult others. If anything, that just goes to show how deep-rooted the patriarchy in our society is.

The most derogatory use of the word feminist is probably “feminazi,” which compares a movement for equality to a genocide. Whenever a girl starts fighting for her right to speak, she’s deemed a feminazi. Along with feminazi, lots of people (especially teenage boys) like to call girls “feminists” as an insult. She doesn’t shave her legs? She must be a feminist. She’s bossy and outspoken? She’s a feminist. And girls who openly do proclaim themselves as feminists are often paraded with a slew of insults, including lesbian, dyke, bitch, and slut.

In my categorization and gross over-simplification of the uses of the word “feminism,” I excluded a category on how millennials use the word. That’s because teen fall into various categories above. Some teens are raging feminists who wear their hearts on their sleeves, others are the kind who learn about what it is for their history midterm just in time to forget it again. But regardless of where you stand in regards to feminism, it’s important to know what it is and how it’s used, if only to understand the jargon surrounding the equal rights debate.

Are you a feminist? Tell me in the comments below or on social media using #theyouthemisms!


  1. Stephanie,
    I really like how you explored the word "feminism" in the different contexts in which it appears! Honestly, I think feminism has become so personal for so many people that sometimes you can't even pin down a definition that works for everyone. Perhaps there is still one single definition of feminism and many people just miss the point, but I think it's one of those words that gets its timelessness and power from being so malleable to the individual. For example, feminism to me means that I know my worth as a woman, but I feel no anger towards men as a whole. For other people, like those on Tumblr, feminism means something else, and I can't say I agree with everything.
    Do you think that we should just accept that feminism is just one of those liquid words that takes on a different meaning for everyone?

    1. Ruxi,
      I think that everyone should accept that feminism means believing in the equality of the sexes (and now genders). However, what that means in practice is something that's fluid and changes from people to people in my opinion. I think it's dangerous that some people think that feminism means man-hating or female superiority so it's important that there's a widely accepted dictionary definition that's progressive but not controversial. Some people apply the definition to female empowerment, other people use it for women to gain the same opportunities as men. Feminism can have a personal meaning for people, but that shouldn't invalidate the dictionary definition.

  2. Steph -
    I actually wrote an column about this same topic in the Oracle, and I am in total accordance with you. But someone once said something to me that made me look at the situation a whole lot differently. Feminism could be a misnomer.
    The concept and the actually definition of the world, for all those informed, describes support for both genders, but the word in its roots is perhaps a misleading way to describe what so many support. Don't get me wrong, I will still vehemently preach feminism, but part of me wants to call myself a humanist instead because that's really what it's about, everyone being equally human. Although women take on more of the struggle, maybe we should start preaching humanism.

    1. Kali,
      I agree with you that feminism is (today) a total misnomer, thought it wasn't when the movement first started. One of the pros of keeping the label is that the name is attached to a movement with a lot of momentum and it's easier to achieve things if you have past accomplishments riding on your back. The con is that the movement and the word carry so much baggage that maybe the name is hindering the movement. I'd love to call the movement for gender and sex equality "humanism" or even just "gender equality" (the no-brainer title) but I think that changing the name distances the accomplishments of feminists past (not necessarily a bad thing) and makes it really hard for the movement to gain speed and actually accomplish something.